Fat Hippo: Phat Cocktails, Meager Food
Fat Hippo’s gotta get a new cook. The sleek and trendy spot on Clinton in the Lower East Side has got great service, a cool vibe, knock-you-out cocktails, and unfortunately, very subpar food. When you’ve got 80% of the equation right, why mess things up with tasteless dressed-up diner fare? The Three Guys on the UES and the Red Flame on university club row serve more delicious food than this place; heck, today’s street vendors season, salt and spice their food better.
The small space across from Falai is dark and sultry with white padded boothes, exposed brick, and little light but from twinkling tealight candles. A prominent bar, manned by cocktail-spinning mancandy, seats about 10, offering the full menu and a shortened bar bites menu. Prettily decorated with attractive and friendly waitresses, well made-up and in the latest fashions, Fat Hippo, at least in look, epitomizes the laidback and unapologetically fun character of its surrounding neighborhood.
The food is dressed-up riffs on classic American pub fare. Think: fish tacos, fried mozzarella balls, lobster pot pie, free-range turkey meatloaf, maryland crab cakes, pork chop, and bbq pulled pork sandwich. All of this sounds good – but trust me, it doesn’t taste particularly good. My party of three started with the hot & sour calamari and moved on to the house special burger fondue (both beef and veggie versions) and the duck cuban.
The hot & sour calamari was a surprise, as it didn’t come fried. Instead, it was marinated and sauteed in a tangy ginger, chili, garlic, lime and peanut sauce. While the sauce was great (with the calamari and for soaking bread), the calamari was rubbery to the point of being freaky. For a hot second, I reminisced about bouncing hotdogs in my high school cafeteria. The burger fondue was marginally better, served slider-style with a hot pot of cheese fondue, bacon bits, pickles, and cone fries. It’s hard to go wrong with burgers, cheese, bacon, and the novelty of dipping burgers in melted cheese, and that pure fact saved this dish from damnation. Yet, objectively, the cheese was low quality and frustratingly flavorless, the burgers were over-cooked, and the bacon bits were out of a shaker normally parked at the salad bar. The duck cuban looked better than the other offerings, yet had a cloying sweetness unbecoming of a should-be savory dinner dish.
While the food was a major bummer, the cocktails were unusual and fantastic – my personal favorite was the Spicy Margherita, featuring jalapeno-infused tequila, and my two male dinner mates happily threw back a fair few of the tangy bitters-laden Old-Fashioneds. Fat Hippo is not a food place – it’s there for straight-up boozy fun. Rockin’ tunes (I think I heard a Jay-Z mashup in there…) and stiff drinks get the party-started, and if you get a little hungry, salty fries and fatty food lies waiting.
Perfect for: after-work or after-anything drinks, ladies night out, birthday shenanigans, at-table dance parties, and group pregame outings